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Amp/Preamp Asylum: REVIEW: NAD C390DD Integrated Amplifier (SS) by DustyC

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REVIEW: NAD C390DD Integrated Amplifier (SS)

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Model: C390DD
Category: Integrated Amplifier (SS)
Suggested Retail Price: $2500
Description: Digital Amp
Manufacturer URL: NAD

Review by DustyC on January 10, 2016 at 19:17:15
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for the C390DD

I blame it on a Stereohphile show I attended during the 1990's in L.A. A guy by the name of Peter Lyndorf demoed a new type of power amp that didn't have any analog gain stages. Called the TACT Millinieum Digital Amplifier, this amp was paired with a new model of Dali loudspeaker that had very low levels of stiction in the driver surrounds. Driving this combo was a simple low priced NAD CD player that was modified to output the digital signal to the TACT directly, without any conversion. After a lengthy discussion on the operating theory of the map we got down to listening. What I noticed about this amp was the way it was smooth sounding, almost dull, yet I could easly pick out the slightest low level dynamics. My previous experience listening to products that had a good retrieval of low level ambieance seemed rather upfront in the treble range. Things would get overbearing once the volume was raised. But this amp was something else. At $10,000 it was something that was way out of reach for me. I thought that over time mass production of these might bring the price down.

Fast forward a few decades and we have this technology at a lower price point. The TACT is still around (still priced at 10 grand I think) but
other manufacturers, Devialet, NUForce and NAD have released models that are a little more in the mainstream pricewise.

A parade of various amps and preamps have passed thru my hands in the last 12 years. Some were all tube (C-J, VTL), some hybrid (Audio Research),
and most recently balanced solid state class A (Classe). All of them were a learning experience. I can see why reviewers will sometimes have a stable of various circuit topologies and gain devices to use to get the best result from the device under test.

All of the previous amps and preamps that I had in my system were used. Over time I realized that getting these fixed was getting to be a hassle.
So I decided that I would downsize and get a new item. An integrated amp seemed to be the best option. Separate pre and power amps have additional
costs due to more chassis and the variable of connector cables between. I wanted to get the simpliest signal path possible.

Sources included vinyl, CD, and streamed high and low res computer files. Power needed to be sufficient to drive Maggies (3.6R's) but not to
rock concert levels (I call it quits at about 98 db or so).

After reviewing features, reviews and price, I bought a NAD C 390DD with an analog input card from Spearit Sound. 1st unit sent arrived damaged.
Spearit shipped out another and a return label for the damaged unit plus an apology for the problem. Great customer service!

Since this unit seems to be biased towards digital playback I used the optical output from my CD player instead of the analog RCA's. Since vinyl playback is not in digital form a ADC takes care of converting the cartridge output to a digital stream. Curiously the RIAA curve is applied in the digital realm. My version of the NAD will play digital formats up to 96Khz and 24 bit.

With all items hooked up I began with vinyl playback. Jazz and some Classical formed the bulk of the material used. It seemed like doing the RIAA conversion in the digital gave a really clean and smooth presentation of the music. I was worried that the 48Kz sampling rate used for ADC conversion would not be high enough to do justice to the treble. No problems here. Highs seemed to be as extended as with the previous analog phono stages with no sign of harshness. What I really liked was the sense of clarity even down to the final decay of things like struck triangles.

CD's played ranged from early 1980's to the latest stuff from Concord, Telarc, and others. Again, playback thru the NAD was clean with a sense of openness into the soundstage (if any, some of the recordings the C390DD laid bare the recording studio and mike arrangement). I have a couple of VITAL records (David Manley's record label) and some of them have a single mike to record the band. The difference between these recordings
and a multimike recording was VERY evident.

Downloading some sample 96Khz tracks seemed to verify the ablity of the NAD to give a smooth "polished" presentation of the highs. The unit locked into any sampling frequency that was streamed to it and indicated said frequency on the front panel display.

Bass and midrange were rendered with the same clarity as the treble. Soundstage depth and width seemed to be similiar to what I experienced with
the tubed units and the bass had the impact of the solid state amps. The NAD had no trouble driving the bass panel sections of the Maggies to volume
levels up to my limit (98 db or so) with solid control and no sense of blur.

I would have been happy if the C390DD was able to come close to the performance of the analog gear I've used in the past, and I think that it does primarily with CD's. Keeping the format conversion down to just one instance and performing amplification along with it pays big dividends
in terms of getting out the way and letting the music thru.

Keeping the signal in digital form does allow for some other benefits: room equalization, gain matching between sources, crossover for bi-amping,
with adjustable level and slopes, signal balance, phase reversal, bass and treble controls can all be done prior to analog conversion. I was able to
use the on board test tone program to remove a few humps in the bass response, used the crossover function to add subs to my system without going thru the subwoofer crossover for the high level signal and employed the bass/treble controls for some of my favorite tunes that are sonic duds. The icing on the cake is that all of these functions are available from the remote control. No more running back and forth to compare settings at the listening chair!

I had mentioned earlier that the phono module converted the input from the cartridge to digital format and this did provide an additional benefit.
The unit has a digital line level output (similiar to the old "tape out") that allowed me to dub vinyl records into digital format for computer playback or on my portable player. Performing a comparison between vinyl source and PC playback revealed nothing amiss. I asked my wife to listen also. She said that she couldn't hear any difference. She could hear a difference between vinyl and cassette playback without my prompting.

The C390DD chassis is typical current NAD build. Weighing in at about 16 lbs, the unit feels solid, the controls have a nice tactile feeling
and the front panel, while made of plastic doesn't look or feel cheap. The display text is a little small and hard to read from across the room.
Thankfully the bass/treble, balance, phase displays feature a "sliding bar" arrangement that is readily visible from a distance.

Overall I'm happy with this amp and would recommend it for someone who has mid priced separates and is looking to downsize their component count.

Product Weakness: Sampling rate of phono module section limited to 48K. Some may want it higher (96Khz?)
Product Strengths: Smooth sound with good sense of detail

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: NAD390DD
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): None
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Sony S9000ES, SOTA Turntable
Speakers: Magnepan 3.6R
Cables/Interconnects: Audioquest
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz, Classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 12 x 18 x 10
Time Period/Length of Audition: 1 year
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: NAD C390DD Integrated Amplifier (SS) - DustyC 19:17:15 01/10/16 ( 2)